This Sanskrit work may be the earliest scripture of Tantric Śaivism to survive complete. It is certainly the oldest Saiddhāntika one (dating perhaps to between 450 and 550 AD.) The Niśvāsa also contains unparalleled́ information about more archaic (proto-tantric) forms of Śaivism (see Alexis Sanderson, ‘The Lākulas: New evidence of a system intermediate between Pāñcārthika Pāśupatism and Āgamic Śaivism’, 2006 [pdf]), and thus is a particularly important source for our knowledge of the origins and early history of tantra. Now transmitted to us in a beautiful Nepalese manuscript of the 9th Century, this work was once widely known across the Indian subcontinent and beyond, for it is mentioned in tenth-century inscriptions in Cambodia.
A volume focusing on the Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā will contain the first critical edition of the three oldest of its five major sections, prefaced by studies of the text-corpus that attempt to contextualise the work within the religious milieu from which it was produced.
The first of the five sections of the Niśvāsa, an introductory book called the Niśvāsamukha, has been selected as the focus of the doctoral research of Nirajan Kafle, conducted at the Pondicherry Centre of the EFEO under the supervision of Dominic Goodall.
This book is divided into four chapters and is devoted to presenting the religious context in which the Mantramārga, in other words the Tantric Śaivism that is the teaching of the other books of the Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā, emerged. This non-tantric background is subdivided into the categories laukika, vaidika, ādhyātmika and atimārga. The first chapter furnishes a frame story for the whole tantra, then starts to expound laukika religion, beginning with an account of the fruits of offering different things to the liṅga. The second chapter deals with making and installing different kinds of temporary liṅgas and with the fruits of worshipping them daily. The third chapter is about sacred pilgrimage places and the rewards of bathing in them. It also presents various religious observances, again laukika, and the benefits they bestow. The fourth chapter is historically the most important, for after dealing with vaidika and ādhyātmika religion, it expounds the Atimārga, in other words Pāśupata religious traditions. This last Pāśupata section has already been published and discussed at length by Professor Sanderson in the above-mentioned article.
It has been possible to restore many damaged passages of the text because of the discovery (made by S. Sambandhasivacarya and Anil Kumar Acharya, both of the IFP) that several hundreds of verses of the Niśvāsamukha have been borrowed into the the Śivadharmasaṃgraha and adapted.
The thesis will contain a first critical edition of the Niśvāsamukha, an annotated complete translation into English and an introduction, which will explore the picture that the text presents of the religious context in which Tantric Śaivism saw itself in this early period of the formation of the tantric canon.
• This research forms part of the Early Tantra project.